Acting on an order issued by President Serzh Sarkisian, Yerevan’s municipal administration said on Wednesday that it will nationalize a private company that has collected street parking fees in the Armenian capital for the last three years.
The company, Parking City Service (PCS), was contracted by the municipality in 2013 to introduce and enforce a new parking system through street cameras and electronic billing. Drivers have since been charged 100 drams (21 U.S. cents) per hour or 500 drams per day for parking their cars in the city center and many other parts of Yerevan.
They have also had the option of paying a fixed annual fee of 12,000 drams ($25) for unlimited parking time. Parking fines are set at 5,000 drams.
Around the same time, another private firm chosen by the government began installing speed radars and cameras in and outside Yerevan. They are now heavily used by the Armenian road police for enforcing traffic rules.
Both systems have proved unpopular, with many motorists complaining about the amount and frequency of fines slapped on them. Many in Armenia also resent the fact that most of the revenue generated by them goes to the private operators, rather than the state or municipal budgets. Some media reports have alleged that those operators are controlled by government-linked individuals.
Meeting with government and law-enforcement officials on November 3, President Sarkisian said that the new electronic systems have made car traffic and parking far more orderly. But in a move attributed by some observers to forthcoming parliamentary elections, he said the Armenian authorities should now have full control over their cash inflows.
The Yerevan Mayor’s Office responded by opening separate negotiations with the two operators. Deputy Mayor Vahe Nikoyan announced on Wednesday that PCS has agreed to voluntarily cede its ownership to the municipality.
“This will legally take the form of a donation,” Nikoyan said, adding that the company will receive no financial compensation. The municipality will also take over the company’s liabilities, he said.
PCS’s executive director, Vazgen Harutiunian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the company will not comment on the nationalization, highly unusual for Armenia, for the time being.
PCS has received 70 percent of street parking fees and fines collected by it. That has translated into an annual revenue of roughly 1.2 billion drams.
“Yerevan will benefit from this and so will do its residents,” insisted Nikoyan. But he indicated that the parking fees will not be reduced after the nationalization is completed within the next two months.